In many Asian countries, microwave ovens are as prevalent as they are in the United States. And so perhaps it should not surprise us that microwave cooking adapts very well to Asian cuisine. One reason is that it uses ingredients that are cut into small, similar-size pieces. While the ingredients are cooking, they are vigorously stirred periodically, which promotes even cooking.
If microwave cooking had been invented before woks, it might have been the traditional stir-fry method. While both microwaving and stove-top stir-frying take about the same cooking time, microwave cooking can be more convenient--and cooler.
Also, microwave stir-frying can be slightly lower in calories. Less oil is needed since foods don't stick to the pan during cooking. So with some stir-fried foods--especially vegetables, which need to be steamed as they stir-fry--water can be substituted for part of the oil.
Dodging the Splatters
Microwave stir-frying is also less messy since with conventional wok cooking you must deal with the splatters caused when food juices contact the hot fat. Because the microwave oven is enclosed, splatters aren't a problem.
With any type of stir-frying, you need a pan large enough to easily mix the bulky fresh vegetables. For microwaving, I recommend a dish that's about one quart in size for each serving of the recipe: a two-quart casserole for two servings, four-quart casserole for four servings.
If you don't have a big microwave casserole you can make do with a big glass or crockery mixing bowl. My favorite stir-fry utensil is an old four-quart oven-proof glass mixing bowl from my mother's cupboard. There's one caution, however: If your stir-fry utensil doesn't have a wooden or plastic handle, you will want to use pot holders.
When naming recipes, Asians sometimes use sensory, rather than graphic, descriptions, as exemplified by the "many flavored" beef and "four delight" chicken recipes that follow. These recipes will give you the general method to use for microwave stir-frying. Traditional Asian seasonings--garlic, pepper, ginger, hoisin sauce--accent these dishes.
Have Ingredients Ready
As with conventional stir-frying, you should always have all the ingredients ready when you start the cooking process. Since the cooking goes fast, there is no time to stop and chop.
Here are two additional tips for serving a microwave stir-fried meal. First, since microwaving is so quick, it's best to start cooking the rice (if serving) before the stir-fry.
Second, you may want to pass warm hand towels before the meal. For each guest, wring out a washcloth in lemon juice and water (add cloves, too, if desired). Roll up the towels and place on a microwave-safe plate or platter. After the entree course, microwave the towels on HIGH (100% power) for one to two minutes or until they feel warm. Pass them to guests.
If steak is partially frozen, it is easier to slice into neat strips. You can keep beef for stir-frying in the freezer until just before slicing it, then defrost it until softened enough to slice but firm enough to hold its shape. Fresh green beans need to be precooked before adding to the stir-fry, but you can use two (10-ounce) packages of defrosted frozen beans and skip the precooking step.
MANY FLAVORED BEEF WITH VEGETABLES
1 pound green beans, ends and strings removed, snapped in halves
1/2 cup water
1 pound flank steak or top round steak, cut across grain into very thin strips
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon peeled and grated ginger root
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 medium green pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Place beans and water in 1 1/2-quart microwave-safe casserole. Cover and microwave on HIGH 10 to 14 minutes, stirring to mix well after 5 minutes, until tender-crisp. Drain and set aside, uncovered.
Combine beef strips, soy sauce, garlic, pepper, ginger, cornstarch and oil in 4-quart microwave-safe mixing bowl or casserole. Cover with wax paper or lid. Microwave on HIGH 4 to 7 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes or until meat reaches desired doneness.
Stir in onion, carrots, green pepper, beans and brown sugar. Cover and microwave on HIGH 7 to 11 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes, just until vegetables are thoroughly heated but not tender. Let stand, covered, about 5 minutes before serving. Makes 4 servings.
FOUR DELIGHT CHICKEN, PEKING STYLE
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup strong chicken broth
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup diagonally sliced green onions
3 whole chicken breasts, skinned and boned, meat sliced across grain into strips
1 pound Chinese pea pods, ends trimmed and strings removed
1/4 pound bean sprouts
6 radishes, sliced
Place pepper, garlic, wine, broth, cornstarch, hoisin sauce, sugar and vinegar in small bowl. Set aside.
Place oil, green onions and chicken strips in 4-quart microwave-safe bowl or casserole. Cover with wax paper or lid and microwave on HIGH 5 to 8 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes, just until chicken turns white.
Add sweet-sour sauce and continue microwaving on HIGH 5 to 8 minutes longer until sauce has thickened. Add pea pods and bean sprouts. Microwave on HIGH 5 to 8 minutes just until pea pods are tender-crisp. Stir in radish slices and serve. If desired, garnish with additional radish slices. Makes 6 to 8 servings.